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Find the Best Whole Life Insurance Policy

To find the right whole life insurance coverage, decide what you want the policy to accomplish.
April 26, 2019
Insurance, Life Insurance
Find the Best Whole Life Insurance
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If you want life insurance that won’t die before you do, consider a whole life insurance policy. Whole life insurance is a type of permanent life insurance that offers lifelong coverage, consistent premiums and a guaranteed return on the policy’s cash value.

Whole life insurance is a good policy to buy if you:

  • Need coverage that lasts for your entire life.
  • Want the payments to stay the same (called level premiums).
  • Want a guaranteed return on the cash value that builds up within the policy.

Largest sellers of whole life insurance

Here’s an overview of the biggest sellers of whole life insurance, based on the total amount of money policyholders pay each year for their coverage, listed in alphabetical order.

CompanyWhole life insurance options
Source: LIMRA’s U.S. Retail Individual Life Insurance Sales Survey for 2018.
Guardian Life Insurance
  • Offers survivorship policy that insures two people, typically a married couple, on one policy.
  • Offers whole life policies to healthy people living with HIV.
  • On some policies, part of the cash value can be linked to performance of the S&P 500.
  • Potential to earn dividends.
MassMutual
  • Offers policies of $2,000 to $25,000 with no medical exam for ages 40 to 80.
  • Guaranteed-acceptance coverage is available for ages 50 to 75.
  • Larger whole life insurance policies are available with a medical exam.
  • Potential to earn dividends.
Mutual of Omaha
  • Guaranteed-issue policies of $2,000 to $25,000 for ages 45 to 85 (50 to 75 in NY).
  • Policies up to $40,000 available with a simplified application through an agent.
  • Children’s whole life insurance available.
New York Life
  • Three types of whole life offered: a standard policy, a value policy with lower premiums and a custom whole life policy designed to build cash value faster.
  • Potential to earn dividends.
Northwestern Mutual
  • Offers whole life policies that can include a term life insurance component.
  • Policies can be designed with different premium-payment periods.
  • Potential to earn dividends.
Ohio National Life Insurance Company
  • Five whole life insurance choices with different premium-payment lengths.
  • Potential to earn dividends.
OneAmerica Financial
  • Policies offer different premium-payment lengths, including a single-payment policy.
  • Potential to earn dividends.
  • On some policies, part of the dividend can be linked to performance of the S&P 500.
Penn Mutual
  • Includes riders that allow access to part of the death benefit in cases of chronic or terminal illness.
  • Offers survivorship policy that insures two people, typically a married couple, on one policy.
  • Potential to earn dividends.
State Farm Life
  • Options for limited premium payments (10 to 20 years) and a single-payment policy.
  • Final expense policy for $10,000 for ages 50 to 80 (50 to 75 in NY).
  • Potential to earn dividends.
Transamerica
  • Amounts from $2,000 to $3 million.
  • Three types of final expense policies.

Do you need whole life insurance?

Before you buy whole life insurance, ask a fee-only financial advisor if it’s right for you. Whole life insurance fits the bill for some people, but term life insurance is sufficient for most families.

Term life insurance, which has no cash value and ends after a length of time you choose, typically has much lower premiums than whole life insurance.

» Need term life instead? Get term life insurance quotes

Another option is universal life insurance, whose premiums and returns can vary over time. Like whole life insurance, universal life insurance is permanent coverage that builds cash value.

To decide which type of insurance is best for you, consult a fee-only financial advisor, if possible. These advisors don’t make commissions from sales, so they can recommend financial products objectively.

If whole life insurance is right for you, these tips will help you find the best policy.

How to find the best whole life insurance company

Check the insurer’s financial strength

Look up the financial strength rating of each whole life insurer you’re considering. You can find financial information through a rating firm such as A.M. Best or through the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. Financial strength is important because a strong company has a better chance of being around decades from now to pay claims.

Any company with an A.M. Best rating of B+ or higher has a good ability to meet its obligations, in A.M. Best’s opinion. NerdWallet typically recommends considering insurers with ratings of A- or higher. Companies with ratings below that may not be quite as safe a bet and often have higher rates of complaints relative to their size.

All of the largest life insurance companies, for example, have solid financial strength ratings.

Research the insurer’s reputation for customer service

You can look up an insurer’s complaint ratio score on the NAIC website. The ratio is based on the number of complaints filed against the insurance company with state regulators and is adjusted for the company’s market share (based on premiums written). The national median is 1, so a score higher than 1 means the company received a larger number of complaints for its size.

How to find the best whole life insurance policy

Choose the right amount of coverage

To find the right coverage amount when you’re buying whole life insurance, decide what you want the policy to accomplish. A relatively small policy — $10,000, for example — may pay for a funeral. You will need a larger policy if you have other priorities, such as funding a trust for a child with special needs.

Not all sellers of whole life offer policies in small amounts of coverage, and those that market small policies don’t always sell large ones.

» MORE: How much life insurance do you need?

Examine riders

Riders are coverage features you can add to a life insurance policy, usually for an extra cost. Examples include a chronic illness rider, which lets you access some of the death benefit if you have a serious illness, and a “disability waiver of premium” rider, which lets you skip payments if you become disabled.

Some companies offer an accelerated death benefit rider for no extra premium. This provision allows you to tap part of the death benefit if you become terminally ill.

Available types and costs of riders vary by insurance company. Make sure your policy has the riders you want.

» MORE: How to decide if that life insurance rider is worth it

Look at the rate of return on cash value

Whole life insurance policies feature a “cash value” savings account. A portion of your premium is invested in the account, which typically grows slowly on a tax-deferred basis. You can borrow against the cash value, use it to buy more coverage or surrender the policy for the cash. (The death benefit is reduced if you don’t repay a loan, and it disappears if you surrender the policy.)

Whole life insurance policies guarantee a minimum growth rate on the cash value. Some policies can perform even better if they earn dividends, which are portions of the insurer’s financial surplus. Dividends generally aren’t guaranteed, but they’re worth taking into account when you compare policies.

Life insurance companies provide illustrations of how each policy’s cash value could perform. Always ask which parts of the illustration are guaranteed. For example, an insurer may give cash value projections based on the payment of dividends, which aren’t guaranteed.

Understand the different approval processes

There are three main types of approval processes.

  • Fully underwritten life insurance typically involves filling out a lengthy application and taking a life insurance medical exam.
  • Simplified-issue life insurance involves answering some health questions, but there’s no medical exam.
  • Guaranteed-issue insurance means you’ll be accepted with no medical exam and no health questions.

Even if you have some health issues, you can generally find the best price by applying for a fully underwritten policy.

Simplified-issue and guaranteed-issue policies are worth considering if you’ve been turned down for standard life insurance due to health problems, but beware of the downsides. The death benefits offered are relatively small, and the costs per $1,000 of coverage are higher than for policies that require a medical exam. In addition, these policies don’t pay the full death benefit if you die within the first few years of coverage.

Compare prices

Get life insurance quotes for the same amount of coverage from several insurers to compare prices. You may find that rates for whole life insurance vary widely.

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